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The Fourth Amendment's Protections for Criminal Defendants

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is found in the Bill of Rights and, along with several others we’ll talk about over the next few weeks, provides protections for individuals against intrusions by the government. The Fourth Amendment provides:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

This requires that a law enforcement agency (or other government agency) that wants to search a person’s home or property must show probable cause that evidence of a crime exists within that location. Further, it says that the government may not seize a person’s property without also showing probable cause to believe that it is evidence of or proceeds from a crime. Any warrant, in order to be constitutionally valid, must also describe the place to be searched and the description must be clear, and it must describe the property, or the person in the case of an arrest warrant, to be taken or arrested.

This requirement of probable cause, along with the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures means that the government must show, to the satisfaction of a reviewing judge, that they have more than just a suspicion that evidence of a crime is going to be located at the location. A person also may not be arrested except upon a showing of probable cause.

The effect of this Amendment on criminal prosecutions in Louisiana can be seen in many procedures our courts follow:

In Louisiana, if a person is arrested without a warrant, a judge must review the arrest information within 72 hours (exclusive of legal holidays) to determine whether there was probable cause to effectuate that arrest. If there was, then the case may proceed. If not, then the arrestee must be released.

Defendants who believe that they or their property have been searched unlawfully or absent probable cause may file a motion to suppress the results of the search and the Supreme Court has held that if those searches were conducted without probable cause, the evidence cannot be used against the Defendant.

Check back with us next week for our favorite legal and law-related movies in celebration of Louisiana Film Prize Weekend!